Most of my tutorials use felt in its natural state, but a few tutorials (like those for felt lettuce or felt taco shells) call for the felt to first be treated so it’s a little stiffer. Stiffened felt can hold the three-dimensional shapes needed for more complex felt projects.
Four Ways to Stiffen Felt:
Quick Overview of methods (Detailed instructions below):
pros: inexpensive, chemical-free, range of stiffness
cons: messy, not machine washable, too much can leave residue
Glue or Glazing Media (EASIEST)
pros: machine washable, range of stiffness
cons: messy, somewhat expensive
pros: historically accurate, natural, chemical-free
cons: can change thickness/texture unpredictably, only works on wool felt
Clothes Dryer (CHANGES TEXTURE)
pros: natural, chemical-free, create interesting texture
cons: can change thickness/texture, only works on wool blend felt
Have you tried this project with one of these methods or another method? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
How to Stiffen Felt with Cornstarch:
An inexpensive and food-based option, Cornstarch is a classic stiffener that’s natural, durable, and safe to use on felt projects that might end up gummed by a young toddler. Activating the stiffening properties of the cornstarch requires a few steps, but the stiffening power is impressive. For wool felt, combine this method with the boiling method below for extra-stiff felt with enough rigidity to create free-standing dimensional felt crafts.
Using cornstarch offers very powerful stiffening depending on the amount of cornstarch used. It can be used on any type of felt- although you should avoid letting felt made from man-made materials come into contact with the still-hit cornstarch solution.
Cornstarch-stiffened felt may become less stiff over time with play. If starched felt is vigorously washed then stiffening will lessen. The method below will stiffen about 5 12×18″ wool felt sheets, increase the recipe to stiffen more sheets of felt.
We’ll be demonstrating this method as used on our Felt Corn Tostada and Shell Tutorial. For a pattern and instructions for creating the corn-tortilla coloring, check out the full tutorial.
1. Bring 2 cups of water to boil.
While waiting for water to boil, mix 2-3 Tablespoons of cornstarch with 1/2 cup of COLD water. Mix until smooth.
2. Pour the cold cornstarch-water into the boiling water slowly while stirring constantly.
3. Continue stirring and maintain at a low boil for about 2 minutes. The mixture should change from opaque white to clear and have a thick gravy-like consistency.
4. Remove from heat and cool until comfortable to touch (about 110 degrees, if using a thermometer).
5. Working first with light colored felt, then dark, dunk each felt piece into the solution and submerge/massage until fully saturated.
6. Lift felt from the cornstarch solution, gently squeezing excess liquid but being careful not to “wring” the fabric. Pressing felt between paper towels or using a hand wringer works best. (do NOT dry without removing excess liquid, or a cloudy film will form on the surface of the felt)
6. Lay flat to dry, for a stiff-flat texture, or allow the felt to dry over forms or under compression to create dramatic shapes.
How to Stiffen Felt with Glazing Media:
Glazing media– available at any craft store, is my go-to for quickly adding stiffness to felt when I’m in a hurry or only need a small piece stiffened. It’s versatile, washable, and works with wool felt or craft felt. Read on to find out two ways I use this media to stiffen.
Glazing media comes in several forms (gel, liquid, etc) and finishes (gloss, semi-gloss, matte, etc) but my go-to for stiffening felt is the Liquitex Matte Glazing Media. It’s similar to an artist’s grade decoupage paste, I like this brand because it doesn’t discolor or turn milky when applied heavily.
There are two ways to use glazing medium to stiffen felt. Immersion or brush application:
Brush Application of Glazing Media to Stiffen Felt:
This is the perfect technique for finishing touches like creating a sturdy stem for felt fruit or adding a bit of “crunch” to the bacon in your play breakfast food set.
1. Place the felt to be stiffened on a piece of scrap paper or cardboard.
2. Place a small pool of glazing media on your cardboard
3. Dip a stiff brush (like a stencil brush) into the glazing media and then apply to the felt in a blotting or stabbing motion. Applying a bit aggressively helps the stiffening media sink into the fibers of the felt instead of remaining on the surface and potentially adding an unnatural finish to the felt.
4. Repeat until a section is covered, then use a paper towel to blot away any excess. Keep blotting until there’s not an obvious opaque white coating on the felt.
5. Dry in the position desired (i.e. for a fruit stem dry straight or slightly curved, for bacon arrange the strip with ruffles).
Glazing Media Immersion Application to Stiffen Felt:
1. Place 1-2 cups of cool water in a bowl.
2. Add 3-4 Tablespoons of glazing media (more for a very stiff final product) and whisk until the mixture is uniformly liquid and opaque.
3. Add felt to the bowl one piece at a time, allowing the solution to fully saturate the fabric.
5. Very gently squeeze out excess solution. Roll felt between layers of an old towel and wring to speed drying (NOTE: immediately machine wash any towels used to prevent permanent stiffening of towels used to absorb stiffening solution)
6. Smooth into desired shape and allow to dry thoroughly.
Boiling (wool or wool blends only):
Felt is produced through a process of interlocking loose fibers together until they form a single matted unit, which is flattened and cut to size. The interlocking process is achieved through a combination of agitation and using heat to relax fibers that then lock more snugly together when cooled. At the mill, this process is stopped when the material is felted “enough” but if you need a felt that is denser you can repeat a similar process, outlined below, in order to process your felt a second or even third time.
PRO: works best when you need to produce a stiffer felt that is still very soft and very flexible. This method holds up the best to being handled and washed.
CON: requires real wool felt, this process may melt or deteriorate craft-felt.
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil
2. Cut felt into squares or strips no longer than 10″ on the longest side. (Do not overfill pot, work in batches from lightest-color to darkest color felt)
3. While gently stirring constantly, place the strips into the pot of boiling water and let boil for 4-5 minutes.
4. Using tongs, carefully remove the felt to an empty bowl and let cool (be careful not to let dark-dyed felt touch pale colors during this phase)
5. Once cool, very gently squeeze out excess water. Roll felt between layers of an old towel and wring to speed drying.
6. Smooth flat and allow to dry thoroughly.
There are actually many methods to stiffen felt for craft and art use. The Internet is awash in tutorials for stiffening fabrics using mod podge, spray starch (a more expensive version of the cornstarch method depicted in this tutorial), spray fabric stiffener (usually, also, cornstarch-based with chemical additives) and even hairspray.
These spray based stiffening methods tend to be much faster and easier, but higher cost and less effective at creating a dense, rigid final result. If you just need a piece of felt to stand up long enough to get a project through a kid’s science fair, these spray methods are probably your best bet, but for small-scale makers, crafters, and artists it’s worth the investment in time to create more professional results at a lower cost. Learn more about felt food making techniques in my Introduction to Felt Food Making.
Lindsayanne is a professional artist, writer, and serial-DIY-er with a knack for solving problems creatively at home, in the studio, out in the garden, and even online. Learn more about Lindsay, her training, and her background here.